A lifetime of rifles

From humble beginnings with a BSA to today’s exploits with Sauer, Howa, Anschütz and CZ, Mike Powell discusses the rifles that have been important to his shooting life

I really can’t explain why I have always been heavily involved with guns and rifles. I certainly didn’t come from a shooting background, although my great grandfather was a keeper. But from the first time I clapped eyes on a very old BSA air rifle, I was hooked.

Since those early days when my grandmother, for some inexplicable reason, saw fit to buy me my first air rifle, a .177 BSA Cadet, my interest in sporting rifles in particular has never waned.

When eventually I was able to acquire my first firearm, again one of Birmingham Small Arms’ products, a Sportsman Five .22LR, a whole new world opened up to me. It was in the days of the highest numbers of rabbits this country had ever seen, and for a young lad who was fortunate enough to be able to shoot over a considerable acreage of Devon countryside, it was as good as it got.

The BSA was eventually replaced with an Anschütz. Which model I cannot remember, but after I first used an Anschütz I would always remain faithful to that make as far as rimfire rifles were concerned. I have always really liked their 17 series models.

They are certainly not cheap – in fact one could almost accuse them of being a little too pricey – but boy, can they shoot! I have owned my 1710 .22LR for many years, and though friends’ .22s will match it out to around the 75-yard mark, from that point out it always has the edge.

My use for it apart from rabbit control has been for close-range foxes, in and around farm buildings and in areas where maximum covertness is required – something that seems to be becoming more and more necessary in the countryside today.

I have never had the barrel threaded – Anschütz advised against it as the accuracy of the match barrels of the 17 series could be affected. As some form of moderator was required, I cobbled together a makeshift system from an old Air Arms plastic mod that I thought may last for a season, but in fact went on for many years and did the job pretty well.

This .22LR has taken a lot of foxes in the course of my work, and apart from an extractor spring breaking some years ago, has never let me down.

My other Anschütz, again one of the 17 series, is my .17 HMR. Sadly, this rifle, the 1717, as far as I am aware hasn’t been available new in this country for some years now, which is a great shame as it is again an extremely accurate rifle.

Though I have taken the odd fox with it, its primary use is for rabbit control work, mainly at night. I have shot thousands of rabbits with it over the years, and again like its .22 sibling it has never let me down. Used at night from the pick up as a ‘drive-by’ control tool, its accuracy with a maximum point blank range (MPBR) out to around the 120-yard mark does everything I want it to.

In the past I have had two near squeaks with faulty ammunition, but fortunately the ‘squib rounds’ involved propelled the bullet such a short way up the barrel I was unable to load the next round!

Fortunately, those problems seem to be behind us, and for the last couple of years despite putting a large number of rounds through the Anschütz there have been no further problems.

Personally, I think that despite the ammo problems we have experienced, the .17 HMR is a brilliant rabbiting round, particularly at night when ranging is always difficult.

Some say it is affected by the wind; to be honest I have never found this to be a problem on my ‘drive-by’ excursions, as generally I have no idea which the direction the wind is coming from anyway. Chest shooting kills instantly, does little carcase damage, and as far as I’m concerned my .17 HMR is without a doubt my rabbit shooting tool.

For most of my life, my shooting has involved foxes. This stemmed from making a living from the pelts of the foxes I shot and trapped, moving on to setting up a fox control business, which I have run for over 50 years.

In that time, my calibre of choice for general fox work has been .223 Rem. Though in specific situations other guns and rifles come into play, the .223 has always been the round I have found fits the fox control work that I do.

I am no long-range shooter, especially now night vision in its various forms has come of age. I see no point in paying a lot of money for thermal and night vision and then not using it to get as close to my fox as I can. Speaking to fellow Sporting Rifle scribes Mark Ripley and Robert Bucknell, the one thing we all agree on is the average distance at which we shoot a fox: 100 yards.

I often hear of people saying they shoot foxes at 300 yards at night using NV, and I really do wonder why! I fully understand that just occasionally circumstances decree that a long shot needs to be taken, and certainly during daylight hours I really don’t have any issues with this. However, once night falls, so many other situations arise that for the most part, in my humble opinion, shots taken at 250 yards plus are inviting problems.

I have two .223 rifles: a Howa 1500 that I use for reviewing scopes and night vision as I really don’t want to be taking the scope on and off my tried and trusted long-standing fox rifle, which is a Sauer 202.

This make of rifle has always been held in high esteem, not only for its extremely high build quality and proven accuracy, but because for those among us who appreciate the feel and look of a top class rifle, Sauer ticks all the boxes.

My 202 is equipped with a Longbow night vision unit from Starlight NV. I have had the Longbow for probably approaching 15 years and it has been on the Sauer for the last 10 of these.

In that time I can only remember the zero having changed once, and that was due to driver error, not the rifle. I use home-loaded 50gn Hornady V-Max bullets over 21.5gn of IMR4198. I have also had good results using the same bullet over H335.

I have to say the Sauer has done everything I have ever needed it to. It has accounted for a high number of foxes and shoots today as well as the day I took my first fox with it.

A quick word on the Howa in the same calibre: the 1500 has proved to be a really good rifle, again doing the job perfectly. I truly believe that along with CZ, these two rifle makes really do offer really good value for money.

They are both totally reliable, accurate, and for what they offer it’s hard to see anyone looking for a (by present-day standards) inexpensive rifle needing to search any further. 

Top of the ladder where my own rifles are concerned both in calibre size and quality sits another Sauer, the 202 Elegance in .243 that I use for my occasional forays after deer, and also for daylight fox control. This has the lightweight action and has a Swarovski Z6i 2.5-15×56 scope mounted on top.

This is ideal for summer use, and really light to carry around, something increasingly important as the years mount up. As you would expect, it’s extremely accurate, especially when using Winchester ammo. In fact, I don’t normally bother to reload for this rifle as factory ammunition seems to work really well in it.

These four rifles – the .22LR, .17 HMR, .223 Rem and .243 Win could be called my workhorses. However, I do have a couple of other rifles tucked away that I use quite a bit.

One is a Daystate Huntsman Regal air rifle, FAC-rated and running at just over 30ft/lb. Not only is this an extremely good looking rifle, it is also ridiculously accurate.

I use it mainly to remove extremely unwanted rabbits, not only from my son’s market garden but also from my own garden. In fact last night I removed what I hope is the last intruder. This is a yearly task, and though I don’t have many rabbits here anymore, you only need a couple to cause devastation.

The Huntsman is fitted with a PARD night vision unit and is a brilliant rabbit and rat rifle. Rats were my first serious quarry – perhaps the only animal that I truly get satisfaction from shooting.

This rifle has also removed the occasional fox. I know that shooting foxes with an air rifle can raise eyebrows, but a high-powered PCP air rifle is perfectly capable of killing a fox humanely, provided the shot is taken at appropriate range and the shooter is confident of shot placement.

The final rifle is my CZ .17 Hornet. For some reason I get immense pleasure from using this feisty little round. Only a couple of days ago I had a call from a farmer friend to say an area of his wheat was being hammered by a few rabbits.

Owing to disease, rabbit numbers have declined dramatically here but there are a few pockets still causing problems. My inclination is to ease up on rabbits for the time being and see if they bounce back. However, if a request for control comes in it has to be done.

This is where the little Hornet really comes into its own. Only this week, on a day of warm spring sunshine, I parked the truck at the bottom of the field in question. The hedge the rabbits were coming from ran uphill and the hedge bank offered a safe backstop.

I could see the whole hedge, which ran for just over 200 yards up the hill. I have zeroed the Hornet one inch high at 100 yards, and from checking it I know it will take out a rabbit at twice that distance, so I could cover the whole hedge.

After a while the first rabbit appeared 145 yards up the hill. The Hornet dealt with that one. A short while after, a large rabbit ran out into the field 20 yards further up, and was also dealt with.

Some time elapsed, then a couple of youngsters sat in the hedge at 185 yards. Bizarrely, both dropped to the shot. I assumed the bullet had fragmented – nevertheless, the result was the same!

Another came out at the same distance and went the same way. Finally, the last one came out at a measured 212 yards. The shot was taken, and after the dust cloud cleared, a miss was revealed.

Pity really – I had spoiled a clean sheet – but overall the little Hornet had proved what a good, long-range, vermin rifle it is. It has also already accounted for several foxes.

Last of all is my nod to nostalgia. I acquired from a gun dealer in Scotland a mint condition example of the very first rifle I ever owned, a gift as mentioned earlier from my gran.

A bit of an old man thing, I know, but to have that little air rifle in my hands took me back so many years. Little did that lad know when he fired his first shot from the BSA Cadet the road that lay ahead and the countless hours of both work and enjoyment spent in the countryside with such a wide range of rifles.

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